Ironic link between Bernardo and Witch Creek fires

San Diego - There is some irony surrounding the cause of the Bernardo Fire last month, in that the subcontractor blamed for accidentally starting that blaze with a backhoe was a victim of the massive Witch Creek Fire in 2007.

On Tuesday, the San Diego Metro Arson Strike Team (MAST) identified Ramona-based Hillside Excavating as accidentally igniting the Bernardo Fire on May 13.

The fire swept across 4S Ranch, Rancho Santa Fe and Fairbanks Ranch, scorching 1,600 acres, but claimed no lives or homes.

According to MAST, the fire was accidentally sparked by a backhoe that was digging trenches for a housing construction project. Hillside, which was a subcontractor for GEOCON Inc., was digging a series of small trenches for soil testing when the fire began.

However, Hillside was itself the victim of the San Diego Firestorm in 2007.

Hillside and its owners filed a lawsuit against San Diego Gas & Electric after it was determined that downed power lines were blamed for starting that fire.

The lawsuit claimed that "equipment necessary for the operation of their business was destroyed, damaged or rendered useless by the Witch Creek Fire."

"This fire was not an ‘Act of God’ but rather caused by intentional and negligent acts and omissions of SDG&E," the suit went on to read.

It has since been settled.

Hillside President Vern Hair refused to comment Wednesday on MAST’s findings.

"I have made a statement to the Fire Marshal, I'm not going to say anything else," Hair said.

"This thing has gone deeper than I ever thought it would," he later added.

GEOCON President and CEO Joseph Vettell, meanwhile, issued his own statement this week.

“GEOCON has learned the Metro Arson Strike team has released its report relative to the Bernardo Fire.  We understand the conclusion of the Metro Arson Strike Team is that the Bernardo Fire was accidentally started. GEOCON is grateful no structures were burned or people injured in the Bernardo fire. GEOCON thanks the many firefighters and fire suppression crews that extinguished the fire.”

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